Bill Sims Company

Bill Sims Company

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Deer in the Headlights

My long journey started at 6am, driving past the deer in my neighborhood munching the grass with it’s early morning dew on it. I was headed for a long trip to the Middle East (with a stop to see clients in Atlanta before the jump).

As usual, there was no food on the regional planes, and by nightfall I’d had almost nothing to eat. I was getting hungry…

“Chicken or Beef?” asked the stewardess, as the plane slid through the midnight air towards Dubai.

With a guilty smile I  asked, “Can I have both?”

She smiled back and said, “Perfect.”

You see, normally I go coach to prove I’m still tough when I make those 26 hour global flights, but this time I splurged and cashed in some of my frequent flyer miles (shhh! don’t tell Margie!) and made my way into the Delta Business Class Elite, on my way to Kuwait, and other parts of the Middle East.

I had heard I’d be treated well, and Delta even promised I would have a lie-flat bed in exchange for all those miles I gave back to them; I had saved them for probably 20 years or more.

My back jumped for joy at the thought of actually sleeping on a plane. I thought what a great use of my Delta Skymiles it would be! 🙂

Hey, if I was paying for it, why not have chicken AND beef? I mean, it sure beat the beer and peanuts I was used to. Getting two dinners at once was a pretty big PIC for me (thanks again Aubrey!), and as I sipped my cold beer (and still nibbled on peanuts) I started to tune into the guys around me.

Here we were, kind of like space travelers in some sci-fi movie, in our little cocoons, talking, traveling, about to go into suspended animation until we reached Andromeda or  Dubai or somewhere.

The guy in Cocoon 1 in front of me was in high speed data systems, working for a government contractor. The guy in Cocoon 4 to the left of me was in communications…working for a government contractor.

“So where are you guys going and what are you doing there?”, I asked.

“Iraq. Data system work. That’s about all I can say!” said the Dude in Cocoon 1.

“Afghanistan. Comm link systems. Beyond that, it’s classified.” Said the Dude in Cocoon 4.

“Hey man I’m cool with that…”

I was wondering when I could get more peanuts.

I was really impressed to be with some heavy hitting guys who were my age and traveling to do some pretty neat techie stuff in a pretty exciting place. They were chatting about how they’d get reimbursed for their $10,000 tickets by their companies and then they stopped….

“How about you Bill, what do you do?” they asked.

“Err, Umm, well, you see, I’ve been asked to speak in Bahrain and Kuwait about my upcoming book …. “Green Beans & Ice Cream: The Recipe for Behavior Change.” I responded somewhat nervously, a bit unsure as to their reaction.

They got quiet for a minute…..

I figured it was time to break out the Power of the Pen and handed them all a green bean pen.

Then I told them the story of Green Beans & Ice Cream and they broke into big smiles……and asked if I could spare a few extra Green bean pens for their kids, which I gladly did……I hope those pens made it home with their daddies to their loved ones….

………….……man am I tired…I’m in Dubai….and it’s everything they say. Vegas on steroids. Wow.

I spent 4 hours with my cell service tech support before leaving the USA and “Yes Mr. Sims your cell phone will work just fine out of the country.”

And so now it’s time to call my family and tell them I’m safe and sound on the other side of the pond.

One problem. The phone says SOS. Out of Service. Dead.


Maybe I’ll fix it at my next flight’s gate. Off I go….

So I get off my flight at gate 118, and learn that I’m late for my connecting flight to Kuwait, which leaves from gate 323.

I haul my 2 rolling bags behind me and start looking for gate 323. Yep, they have 500 gates or more in Dubai’s Airport. It’s huge.

Hartsfield airport should be jealous….

After about 21 gates I ask someone “Where’s the train?”.

“That will be in phase 3 sir….until then, no train. You have to walk, sir.”

(Now I know why they are skinny here.)   🙂

Off I go.

By gate 318 I’m really tired. Walking 2 miles on hard leather dress shoes is tough. But my aching feet had no clue what was coming next.  As I huffed and puffed to the gate the agent said, “Sorry sir, the gate has changed to gate 119.”

This  was clearly not my day. 2 miles back. Sorry feet.  After 23 hours of flight. Well, I hear walking breaks up the blood clots your legs get on the plane so maybe this is a good thing? Look on the bright side, feet, ok?

I go back thru the maze of duty free shops and feel like I’m in Groundhog Day. More of the same.

Now I’m at my gate.

30 minutes to departure. Checked in. Everything is cool.

So I whip out my blue tooth headset and pair it to my notebook and find free wi-fi in the airport, and use SKYPE to call home. ET phone home!

I call the secret, special cell service IT number that a buddy gave me which goes deep into their Command Center and I find a really great tech support person and beg them to help me get my phone working.

They do. It works. Cool. Why didn’t I call you guys the first time, I wonder?

Now I’m in Kuwait and my good friend Brian meets me. We head out to his Toyota and the cold, wet winter I left at home is replaced by hot, sultry desert air. Off we head to the Kuwait Hilton on the Arab Gulf (nice place). I really appreciate him getting me to my hotel and oh YES THEY HAVE STARBUCKS HERE!!!

I have four hours to sleep and then I’m up and ready for meetings with companies and many people. But first, there is breakfast. So I’m eating my oatmeal and the waiter asks if I want juice.

“Yes please, apple” I say.

“Red or Green, sir?”

Huh? I never had to pick the color of apple juice in my entire life. Usually it was just Mott’s, that clear, translucent stuff that we get in the plastic bottle.


The silence was unbearable. I felt really stupid. In Kuwait, and can’t even order apple juice.

And in a moment of sheer genius I remember my chicken/beef solution….

“How about both?” said  I, with a slight smile to the waiter.

“Certainly sir.” And he vanished.

A few seconds later I heard the grrrr and hum of a juicer machine. And then my smiling waiter dropped down freshly juiced apple juice. One glass of red apple juice. One of green.

That was neat. 🙂 I gave my waiter a Green Bean pen and moved on.

Lots of meetings and lots of people and lots of presentations on Behavior Change. I had fun. I think they did too.

The next day, my three new friends Srikanth, Ashok and Mohammed take me to tour Kuwait City. They are from India, and they take me for Indian food. I let them order for me, since I was clueless. Man was that good … sure beat the food on the plane!

Then we pull up to one of their observation towers…really, really big towers, with the restaurant/elevator/souvenir package. Neat place. Big black hummer with Kuwaiti SWAT teams doing a training exercise which had them rappelling down the tower and climbing up it. Pretty cool. Inside, pictures show me where Saddam Hussein tried to destroy the tower to break the will of the people, but I guess the tower won, as did the people…..

……… ”That will be $472 sir.” Said the airport check in guy.

“Huh? What’s that for?” I asked.

“Your bags sir, they are over the weight limit, so we need $472, cash.” He replied.

Since they didn’t take credit cards I had to scrape together the money from my wallet to pay for the bags I was taking on to Bahrain. Not a good thing. Now I was down to $20 cash. And I had a week to go in the Middle East….credit cards are good at most places, but you never know…

Now I’m at the Gulf Hotel in Bahrain (, a neat hotel that dates back to 1929.

That’s where the meeting is. I meet my dear friend and coach Jitu and give him a hug. Then I collapse on the bed. I’ve been averaging 4 hours of sleep a night and tomorrow I begin teaching a course on Green Beans & Ice Cream: The Recipe for Behavior Change.

I’m up early the next morning…body still seriously jetlagged, and so I read my 178 emails from America & the rest of the world. By 6am I’m showered and shaved and ready for breakfast. As Jitu and I meet briefly he tells me that he had to work through the night without any sleep to help the conference go off smoothly. Man Jitu, I wish I had your energy! Jitu is the real Energizer Bunny. He just keeps going and going and going….

As my class begins to fill up I am busy hooking up my computer, projector, speakers etc., and cramming to get everything done by the 8am start time. Then someone taps me on my shoulder and I look up, and there is Faiz, my dear friend who is like a brother to me!

On my first visit to the Middle East, a few years ago, Faiz was the first person I met . He took care of me like I was a little Cocker Spaniel puppy. Bought my dinner. Bought gifts for my family (just like my other friend Abdullah). I was so touched at their kindness and generosity. Plus, Faiz took me to the coolest restaurant ever, Bubbles by the Red Sea (yep, the one that Moses parted). Now, food is the fastest way to my heart, and Faiz must have figured this out cause once I had a good meal in me, I was in love with the Middle East….and still want to go back to Bubbles.

Where was I? Oh yes, so here is my good friend Faiz in my class and instantly I feel right at home…I crank up and start doing “Green Beans & Ice Cream” and the class is engaged, and involved. I have people from Britain, US, India, Saudi, Kuwait and more. It’s a tiny little melting pot…

Now, some places in the Middle East are a “dry county” but Bahrain is not one of those. So I head to Sherlock’s Pub in the bottom of the hotel, and who do I meet but my good friend Dr. Bill Pomfret. I’ve known Bill for over 20 years and he is a fantastic guy who learned from the likes of Dan Peterson and many of the great safety gurus. I buy Bill a cold beer and we reminisce about old times. He tells me a story of how he used positive reinforcement with an employee from India and how it made national headlines.

Hey Bill, how bout write that story up and share it with us ok? My fingers are tired of typing and you’ll tell the story better than I could!

By the second day of my course I’m learning something. I have WAY TOO MUCH STUFF to cover in 2 days. The folks in my class are asking questions, posing riddles, and arguing with me. Yep, that’s right, in this culture, they like to argue with the teacher.

Well, it’s a good thing that my mother was one of 14 kids. Her family were masters of argument. In fact, the Rains family is somewhat legendary for being on the wrong side of the law during Prohibition in the South and the Depression. My mom’s dad used to say he could win one side of the argument with you and then take your side and win that one, too! Believe me, pappy could do just that…

My Rains genes must have kicked in with three of my students, Ahmed, Abdullah and Mo. These three guys were really clever and firmly believed that people ought to be safe because “it was good for them, because it was the right thing to do.” I also admire them because they were so engaged and passionate in the class.

They argued passionately that managers should not have to reinforce good behavior—the worker should do it because it is the best thing for them.

These guys were smoking serious cognitive wacky weed theory. Kind of like that stuff that Alfie Kohn and Daniel Pink put out. I needed some Skinner shock therapy…and I needed it fast.

I could hear Pappy’s voice in my head saying “Use the force son…” 🙂

I decided to come out swinging.

“Ok, guys, I’ll agree with you that in a perfect world every worker should be entirely self motivated. That would be perfect because then people would be self-managed, and they would operate much like computers. Managers would just sit back and do nothing. That’s pretty much the way you’ve operated your company for a number of years. How is that working out for you?”

“Not very well, Bill” they replied honestly.

I continued on with the course, feeling better about getting buy in from the group that people really did need external positive reinforcement—and that a simple “Thanks!” goes a long way.

On the last day I decided it was time to evaluate myself.

“Ok guys, you’ve honored me with 2 days of your time, and a fair amount of your company’s training budget. I want to thank you for that and I want to ask you to grade me. During these past days, I have argued passionately that people need and deserve positive reinforcement and praise to help them perform better.”

And some of you have argued just as passionately that people should do it because it’s good for them….because safety is it’s own reward.

Now I would like to know how many of you feel that positive reinforcement has value and plan to use it with your team?”  27 out of 30 hands go up.

“That’s great!  Now how many of you still believe that people should do things because it’s for their own good?” I asked.

The other 3 hands went up timidly. My 3 favorite students who had argued against external reinforcement.

“Ok, so to sum up my progress here folks, 27 of you are believers in R+, and 3 of you aren’t. Now, I know you’ve paid your money and invested your 2 days with me in this course and I want to thank you for that. And no doubt you are all eager to get your CEU’s and receive your certificates of course completion. And I am delighted to provide 27 of you with that external praise and reinforcement.  Cause clearly, there are 3 of you who won’t need a certificate, or any CEU’s. ….after all, you attended this course because it was for your own good….right?”

My three favorite students broke into laughter and grinned sheepishly. I decided to give them their CEU’s and Course certificates. My point had been made.  It was time to move on….

……Now, it’s the next morning, and I’m to be introduced by a member of the Royal family….and guess what? He needs 30 minutes of my 60 minute slot. I don’t know about you, but I’m not in the habit of telling royalty “No”. Sure thing boss, you go for it.

Which left me with the unenviable task of re-working my entire presentation feverishly while the Prince spoke. Sure enough, it’s show time and I begin with ‘Green Beans & Ice Cream’, and we are rocking and rolling.

Until it was time for questions.

At the end, we had time only for one question, a young man who stood up and said,

“Mr. Sims, what would you say about a company that hires private police officers to monitor it’s employees driving habits in their personal vehicles in their own time? It even goes so far as to fine them for speeding and penalize them and reduce their pay bonuses?”

I swallowed hard. 700 pairs of eyes focused on me to see my response.

“What company do you work for?” I asked him.

“I’d rather not say.” He replied, and the whole room laughed at once.

So, now you see how all the way in Bahrain, on the tip of Saudi Arabia, I came to find myself between the rock and the hard place.

If I sided with the company, the audience would not like my message. And if I sided with the audience, the company would be sure never to do business with me…..

All at once I had become, the Deer in the Headlights.

Watch for my next blog to learn what went down next….

20 Responses to “Deer in the Headlights”

  1. April 20th, 2010 at 10:39 am

    John Alford says:

    How do I find the second part of this blog? I received it today and I would like to find out how to answer the question. I have worked for comanies such as this-that expected you always to represent the company-even on your days off.

  2. April 20th, 2010 at 10:45 am

    Jonathan A Floyd says:

    Awesome article..I can’t wait for part 2…

  3. April 20th, 2010 at 10:47 am

    Kelvin says:


    What a story! It had me glued to my seat…just waitng for the next event to be told. Now I understand why you were the “Deer in the Headlights”. I look forward to reading your response.



  4. April 20th, 2010 at 11:06 am

    Tony Bahno says:


    Great story! I am looking forward to hearing how you responded to the question about the monitoring of the driving habits of the employees. Safe travels my friend! Regards,


  5. April 20th, 2010 at 11:54 am

    Raul Corral says:

    I have enjoyed your life experience but i still want to know
    about Green Beans and Ice cream ?

  6. April 20th, 2010 at 11:55 am

    Jack Jamba says:

    You have me hooked on the outcome of your story. I think you will get two of them to finally agree with you. Looking forward to next installment.

  7. April 20th, 2010 at 11:58 am

    Lynn Ratoff says:

    I really enjoyed your story and hung on every word. Well done! I’ll be curious to see your next installment! Thanks for making interesting reading during lunch! Safe travels!!!!

  8. April 20th, 2010 at 12:15 pm

    john james says:

    great story!

    This company cares so much about their employees that they want them and their families to be safe 24/7. The employees are so valuable that this company took on the expense to help change their safety behavior at home as well as at work.

  9. April 20th, 2010 at 1:53 pm

    Dave Scottow says:

    This was a very entertaining blog post. I really enjoyed hearing of your exploits. Now I want to know more about your training program…so I’ll be checking out your website for more info on that. Keep up the writing it is really enjoyable.

  10. April 20th, 2010 at 2:29 pm

    Keith Johanson says:

    You are a great story teller. I can’t wait for the rest of the story.

  11. April 20th, 2010 at 3:14 pm

    Ken Tester says:

    Hmmmmmm…. after living in Bahrain, I really do believe your between a rock and an anvil.

  12. April 21st, 2010 at 1:28 am

    Wendy van Blerk says:

    Hi Bill,
    I know what it feels like to be a “deer in the headlights” but you know your industry very well and I can’t wait to read your reply. Safety isn’t for whimps! Will you be at the NOSHCON Conference in September 2010?

  13. April 21st, 2010 at 2:47 am

    Adeeb Al-Awadhi says:

    Now I know why Brian Freeman of IES Kuwait are enthusiastic to attend your siminars, this article should be read by many governmental entities to get the insight of the human nature and what make him move positively. Hope to see you soon in Kuwait

  14. April 21st, 2010 at 3:52 pm

    Lou says:

    you are a good storyteller

  15. May 18th, 2010 at 2:51 pm

    Bill Sims Jr. says:

    John: Glad you enjoyed the blog! Check back in about a month, and we should have the sequel posted!

    Raul: You can check out my Green Beans and Ice Cream workshop at!

    Dave: Thanks for the R+. Glad you enjoyed my stories! I will continue to write, as long as you folks tell me they are worth reading!

    Keith: Hey Keith, It’s great to hear from you! I hope you’re doing alright and that we can set up some time to talk soon!

    Ken: You’ve got that right Ken! I was sweating bullets! However, I’ve managed to dodge the anvil pretty well, and in my next blog I’ll tell you how.

    Wendy: Hi Wendy…I would be delighted to do a keynote presentation at NOSHCON in September. However, I haven’t had an invitation. If you would like me there, please ask them to reach out to me. 🙂

    Adeeb: Dear Adeeb, I too hope to meet you in Kuwait and regret that we were unable to to connect during my last visit. It will be great to meet with you at the Baltimore PDC, and I’m looking forward to dinner with you and Brian! Wish you the very best!

  16. May 20th, 2010 at 2:41 pm

    Sandy Wilson says:

    I am on the edge of my seat, waiting for part two…What awesome story..Thank you for sending this email to me

  17. May 21st, 2010 at 12:18 am

    Jack Jackson says:

    Hey Brother.
    Sounds like you had a great trip. Now you see why I enjoyed Bahrain, and Dubai when I went two years ago. Deer in the headlights. I know often many businesses find it hard to show a return on their investment when it comes to safety. But the fact is that almost every safety rule ever created, was created in someones blood. Someone either died or got hurt and the rule was created. So if you can influence good behaviors with positive reinforcements, that is a minimum investment with a maximum gain. Lets talk soon. Your Brother Jack

  18. May 21st, 2010 at 1:41 am

    Shantha says:

    Hi Bill
    Remember me? We used to work on project together. Enjoyed reading your blog. Seems to be all of us know what we need to do which is why we are where we are in the 1st place. But often in our rush to “catch up” we forget what is expected of us… so why wouldn’t people who report to us. Everyone needs reinforcement, most often, the positive variety. In modern parlance it is called mentoring isnt it?

  19. June 2nd, 2010 at 6:04 am

    Paula Duncan says:

    Hi Bill,
    Great Story told by an equally great storyteller!
    Can’t wait for the next part.
    Regards and all good wishes,
    Paula Duncan – UK

  20. June 9th, 2010 at 7:28 am

    Diana Linville says:

    Bill…I could hear your voice throughout the story. My office friends heard me laughing…loudly! There is no doubt in my mind that your audience was happy and satisfied with your answer!

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